|Primary Characters:||Miss Parker, Jarod, Sydney, Broots|
|Description:||Jarod and Sydney begin to notice some startling changes in Ms Parker. They have no idea how much she’s changed, but soon especially Jarod will find out.|
“Of course I wouldn’t, silly”, Ms Parker answered vacantly, a smile playing on her lips as if she was miles away.
Sydney had grown used to the biting conversations with her. He would say something, he knew she would react to and she would answer coldly or if she was in especially bad mood, just bite his head off. But lately, the conversations had changed. He couldn’t get to her anymore. Sometimes she would just laugh off his remarks as if they were intended to be some big jokes or like today, she would act as if she hadn’t heard a word he said.
She reminded him of someone he once knew. Yes, that was it, her mother. But in a way she reminded him of herself as a little girl. That lovely little girl who had no worries. Before all this – the Centre – just fell on her, making her the scared and hatefilled woman he had grown to respect and even like.
“What’s on your mind, dear?”
That remark would have earned him a cold retort. But that was from the old Ms Parker. This new and changed Ms Parker just turned around and shot him a lovely smile.
“I was just thinking about Jarod, that’s all.”
Maybe it was just that. She had always been partial to Jarod. He had a way of getting to you. You couldn’t help loving him, even if he could be very frustating at times. Ms Parker’s feelings for Jarod seemed to be even more confused than Sydney’s. They seemed to be mixture of love and hate. Lately the love part had been more prominent, if Sydney wasn’t mistaken.
As she turned around again another type of smile was playing on her lips. If Sydney had paid more attention he would have recognized it from some of his other friends.
I was thinking about Jarod all right, just not the way you thought, old man. She resisted an impulse to confide in Sydney. But she knew she couldn’t, not just yet anyway. If Jacob had been alive, maybe… Anyway, this was something she had to deal with herself, as always.
“By the way, I will leave early today. I have a lot to do at home.”
No doubt Jarod would pay her a visit later. Sydney had thought of placing an camera in her bedroom, but she would find it and then he would be in a lot of trouble. Besides, Jarod wouldn’t be caught there anyway. Sydney just couldn’t resist letting her know that he knew.
“Have fun, Ms Parker. Send him my love.”
At that a spark of the old Ms Parker found its way into her cold eyes.
“I doubt he’s your type. But if you’re nice I’ll send him by your house later so you can get to know him yourself.”
After delivering that remark, she turned around and left the room, leaving Sydney rather puzzled. One minute she was all sugar and the next she was back to her usual self. Well, he should have known better than to tease her about Jarod. It had always been a sensitive subject for her.
But this time Sydney was wrong. It wasn’t Jarod, or at least not only him that made her snap. As she was leaving the Centre, she used her cell phone to call for a cab.
Several hours later, when she opened the door to her apartment she could smell something cooking. Jarod must have sneaked in and made something for her. Well that was a nice surprise for a change. She really needed that.
“Hello sunshine, you look awful. Rough day at the office?”
“Hi, you always know how to make a girl happy.”
Jarod smiled like a happy child. Of course he didn’t think that she looked awful. She was always beautiful no matter how she felt. But this time he sensed that something was wrong.
“Seriously, you don’t look all that happy. Has Sydney been rough on you?”
“Why do you ask? Don’t you know everything? Anyway, it’s just the usual Centre crap, you know. I’m dead tired.”
No, Jarod didn’t know everything about women in general and Ms Parker in particular. He could never really tell what she was thinking, not really. Despite the fact that he was a pretender and despite the fact that he could predict every single move she made, he really wasn’t sure about her sometimes. Especially not lately. It usually didn’t bothered him much and tonight he had other things on his mind.
“Maybe you’re too tired to eat? Perhaps we should go straight to bed?”
This was accompanied by a very expressive wink.
“How nice of you to think about me.”
This prompted her to stick her tongue out. What was it about Jarod, that made her act like a five year old?
“I must eat something before I starve to death. Besides, it smells lovely. We can sleep later.”
Smiling like a little kid, Jarod took her hand and led her to the kitchen.
When Ms Parker got to work the next day she was in an especially good mood. Not even that fool Broots would be able ruin her day today. Actually, at times she thought he was kind of cute in his own nerdy way, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of letting him suspect that. If she did, he might relax a bit and have a life. She liked him better like this.
Speak of the devil. On her way to her office she almost ran into Broots. What was the little rat doing up this early? She usually had the place all to herself in the mornings. And he was always late, complaining about insignificant details about daycare or whatever.
“What is it, Broots? Speak up. Did you spend the night here or something?”
“No, sir, madam, miss hm, Ms Parker. Just had a little trouble sleeping, that’s all. Not a problem. Not at all. It’s just -“
“I think I get the picture. I would avoid all that junkfood if I were you.”
The chill in her voice made him even more agitated.
“No it’s not that at all. Debbie, my daughter -“
“Yes, I know who Debbie is. Get to the point.”
“She’s on a camping trip. I didn’t want to – It’s just – She just kept begging – You know I can’t deny her anything.”
At that Ms Parker softened a bit. Even if she hated kids in general, Debbie was kind of special. And of course the girl needed to get away sometime. She led a rather sheltered life.
“I understand. Of course you’re nervous about it. But you’ll have her home safe and sound in no time. Shall we stop chatting and get on with our jobs now?”
The last one wasn’t a question as much as it was an order.
“Yes, sir, ma’am. Of course, on my way.”
“Hi, Sydney. It’s me.”
“Oh, hi there, Jarod. What’s the occasion?”
“Does it have to be anything special just because I call my dear uncle Sydney?
“Don’t call me that.”
“What shouldn’t I call you? Sydney?”
“You know perfectly well that I’m not you uncle or father or anything of the kind.”
With a sigh Jarod left the subject. He desperately wanted Sydney to be family. Somehow he felt that he was, but if Sydney didn’t want to acknowledge that, there was nothing to be done about it.
“I was just wondering if you’d noticed anything different about a mutual friend.”
“You mean Ms Parker? There’s always been something different about her. Why, did you two have a fight?”
“No, she’s wonderful as always. I just thought she sounded a bit different around you and Broots.”
Sydney stopped for a minute to think about what Jarod just said. Of course. He’d always known that Jarod knew how to get the information he needed. So why shouldn’t he have bugged the Centre? Sydney made a mental note to get a team down to his office to have it swept.
“Yes, I have noticed something about her, but that’s not unusual under the circumstances. She has other things on her mind, if know what I mean.”
“Oh, you mean – I never thought – Thank you, uncle Sydney. I have to go now. Bye.”
When Jarod got off the phone he thought he might as well get checked into the hotel. It was getting late and he had to be at his new job first thing in the morning.
“Hi. I would like a room, please.”
“Certainly. Do you have a reservation, mr -“
“Walker, James Walker. Yes, I have.”
When he got the key he went straight up to the room. He was very tired and he wanted to order some flowers for Ms Parker before he went to bed. When he entered the room he could sense something strange about it. It was just an ordinary room as far as he could tell. But when he looked at the bed there was a little package on it.
Suddenly he felt a chill. No one was supposed to know that he was here. He opened the package. Inside there was a little box of pez tablets. For the first time since Jarod had left the Centre he felt really scared. The person who had sent him this must know him very well and be capable of tracking him down.
By now, Jarod had forgotten about Ms Parker’s flowers. All he could think about was who had done this to him. Desperately he hoped that it was only a lucky guess that had brought his pursuer to him, but as a pretender he knew that if it had happened once it could happen again. All that was on his mind now was that he had to get going as soon as he could. And that he had to be even more careful in the future. But somehow he suspected that it was only a matter of time before he got caught and that was a really frightening thought.
Ms Parker gave her father a big smile.
Mr Parker was on the phone so he just waved his hand to indicate that she should sit down and wait.
“Yes, I’ll look into it. Very disturbing news.”
When he got off the phone he just sat there for a while looking very worried. Finally, as if he just remembered that his daughter was there, he turned and faced her
“Yes? Did you have something on your mind?”
“Oh, that. It can wait. You seem to have a problem. Something to do with the Centre, I suppose?”
“Yes. I don’t know what is going on around here anymore. In the last few days, three of our best operatives have just disappeared. Maybe someone is starting out on his own or -“
“Don’t worry about it, dad, I will look into it. It’s nothing, I’m sure. Perhaps they just have to lie low for a while, that’s all.”
“Yes, that could be it.”
“Anyway, dad, I was just wondering if you’d like to have lunch with me.”
“Yes, certainly. Just let me finish here.”
“If you’ll just sign here, sir.”
“Here’s the key. Just remember to fill up the tank before you return it. And have a nice trip, sir.”
After finding several Pez packages and some other significant little “presents”, Jarod had decided to switch tactic. This time he had rented a trailer. If he was on the move for a while, maybe his pursuer would lose track of him. He had even thought of calling Sydney for help, but that would be pointless. If he couldn’t solve this problem, why would Sydney be able to?
Besides, if this was connected to the Centre in any way, Sydney would be forced to report it and that wouldn’t help at all. It would have been nice to just to hear his voice telling him that everything would be ok, though. But Jarod knew that he had to lie low. He hadn’t even contacted Ms Parker for a few days. He wouldn’t risk using the phone.
Cautiously he opened the door into the back of the trailer. Nothing. That was a relief. Maybe his pursuer had lost track of him this time. Anxious to be on his way, Jarod pressed on. But when he got behind the wheel he found something. An envelope and a little package. He started with the package. It was pez again. With trembling hands he opened the envelope. Inside there was a note saying: have a nice trip. No signature.
Now Jarod was really scared. Who would do this to him? No one he knew from the Centre would be capable of tracking him down like this. Maybe one of the new kids. Or Jason. Would he be so evil? Jarod didn’t think so. Not without any training.
He had never been this scared. But was this so very different from how Jarod himself had treated others? People he loved. Sydney, Ms Parker. Was this how they had felt? But surely they would know that he would never harm them. He cared about them. It was just a little harmless fun. Or was it? If he ever got out of this alive he would make up for it.
Now he just had to get out of here. Far away. He had to return the trailer and find somewhere to hide.
When Ms Parker got to the Centre really early the next morning she sensed that something was going on. Everyone seemed agitated or even scared. When she opened the door to her office, she noticed thatSydney was already there, waiting for her.
“Sydney, what’s happening? It’s a circus out there.”
She pointed towards the corridor and made a disgusted face.
“Three more of our operatives are missing. And Stevens was found dead in his apartment this morning. He must have hanged himself.”
“Does anyone know why he did it?”
“Well, it might have something to do with what he was wearing.”
Sydney sounded really serious, but at the same time he looked as if he just had said something amusing.
“Don’t play games with me. What was he wearing?”
“He was wearing women’s clothing and a lot of makeup. Not his color, if I may say so.”
“I take it you were there with a team then?”
Sydney was suddenly quite serious.
“He had left a note saying that he couldn’t live with his secret anymore.”
“What’s happening here, Sydney?”
“I really don’t know.”
Sydney sounded tired.
“And there’s more. Have you seen today’s paper?”
“No I was just going to -“
He showed her the paper. She could see a picture of her dad and some of the others from the inner circle of the Centre.
“It’s not much, but it’s serious enough. The worst part is that their source must be someone really high up. They mention things that just a handful of people could know about.”
“I know of several people who might want to harm the Centre, including you, me and even Broots. But who would risk it? It must be a very smart person or a real idiot.”
“There’s been talk. But I don’t think – Maybe -“
“What are you mumbling about? Spit it out!”
“They’re saying that Brigitte is selling her story to the papers.”
“Why would she risk that? She’s mr Lyle’s pet, isn’t she or maybe it’s the other way around?”
“Well, if he found out why she wanted all that money he wouldn’t be all that happy.”
“What is she planning to do? Take out her breast implants?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Sydney lowered his voice.
“There’s a rumor about an operation. A sex change operation.”
“That would suit the t little midget. Money well spent. But seriously, you and I have to look into it. We need to talk, but not here. Come with me.”
After dropping Sydney off, she headed for Broots’ appartment. Where was that fool? Still in bed? Without bothering about ringing the bell she entered the appartment. A handy way with locks, that was one of her many talents. Without much difficulty, she managed to find the bedroom and pulled up the blinds.
“Rise and shine, sleepy head. It’s almost noon.”
Actually it was just after nine, but that was irrelevant. Broots woke up screaming.
“Who is it? Oh, it’s you. No. What are you doing in my bedroom?”
Broots pulled the blanket up to his nose. He looked at Ms Parker nervously. Not an unusual feeling for him around her, but this was worse. What was she doing in his bedroom? Maybe the correct question was how did she get there. While he was pondering these questions, she had collected some of his clothes that were spread over the floor.
“Get dressed. We’re leaving.”
He didn’t move, just stared pointedly at her.
This caused her impatience to turn into irritation.
“What are you waiting for?”
“Well, if you could just -“
She didn’t seem to understand at all, so reluctantly, Broots got out of bed, heading for the showers.
“Wow, not even my dad has such a geeky pyjamas.”
Red in the face, thinking he couldn’t get anymore humiliated, he stumbled out of the room. While he was having his shower, Ms Parker raided his closets and packed a couple of bags. 20 minutes later they were on their way.
Jarod was on his way back to his new hotel room. He had checked in late the night before, and this time for the first time since all this started there hadn’t been any package or a note or anything else for that matter. Maybe his pursuer had finally lost track of him or simply changed his mind.
Jarod knew it couldn’t be that easy, but at least it gave him some breathing space. He thought he should take the opportunity to phone Ms Parker and Sydney. But apparently they were on an assignment because none of them answered the phone. Disappointed, he started to walk back to the hotel room.
“Any messages for me?”
Jarod forced himself to sound casual, while holding his breath. He feared that there would be a package for him again. Not so long ago he had still loved this little fun and the tasty treats, but now he hated the sight of them. Never again would he play with those practical little things.
“No, sir. Nothing.”
“Ok. Thank you.”
Without suspecting a thing he opened the door to the room. Right away he sensed that something was different. That smell. Food? Where did it come from? He closed the door and looked around. The sound of a familiar voice stopped him in his tracks.
“Hello, dear. I hope you don’t mind that I ordered some food for us.”
Ms Parker sounded different. Who was this strange person that looked like his lover? He didn’t know what to say.
“Why – How -“
“One question at a time, dear Jarod. By the way, did you like my little presents?”
Her voice sounded cold and calculating.
“What’s happened to you? You’re so different.”
“Can’t you tell, mr Know-it-all?”
By now Jarod was really scared. What had they done to her? He couldn’t bear to think that all this was her doing. Somehow the Centre must have gotten to her.
“Please, don’t. Are you mad at me for some reason?”
“Do I have to have a reason? Besides, it’s my job to bring you in, remember?”
Not thinking at all, he turned around, trying to get out. The door was locked. How had she managed that? He had been talking to her all the time.
“Thanks, Broots. We don’t want him to escape, do we?”
Broots. Was he in it too? Jarod looked inquiringly into his eyes. He seemed to be almost as afraid as he was. Only her then. His pretender brain was starting to work again. How could he get to her? What was she thinking? What had happened to her?
“I’m glad you’re here, darling. Shouldn’t we start on that delicious chinese food you brought me, before it gets cold?”
He took a few steps forward. But he shouldn’t have done that. Ms Parker reacted instantly. Suddenly she had a knife in her hand.
“Don’t try that on me, lover. Now get undressed. Yes all of it. Broots, get those cuffs for me, and secure him to that chair. That’s a good boy. Now, my dear little pretender, you and I will have a little chat.”
Ms Parker got closer. She let the cold silvery blade of the knife play along Jarod’s chin, without saying a word for what to Jarod felt as an eternity.
“Please, let me go. Don’t do this to me. Broots -“
“Shut up. Did I say that you could speak?”
“Please, Ms Parker.”
“That goes for you too, Broots.”
“Now Jarod, you didn’t answer me before – Did you like my little presents?”
Without waiting for an aswer, she continued.
“Of course you liked them. You like surprises. I should know. You see, you’ve been so nice to me in the past and somehow I wanted to repay you for that.”
Now she began to play with the knife again, this time further down.
Jarod started to think. Had he really hurt her so much in the past? He knew he had used his pretender senses to make jokes at her expense. Sydney and Broots had been targets too, but mostly Ms Parker. He had just wanted to get her attention. Anyway this was before they became close.
Yes, he could sense that she was hurt and angry. Some of those feelings were aimed at him, but most of it was directed at the Centre. He had just gotten in the way somehow. But there was something else too, something very familiar and at the same time very strange. He was now close to tears.
“If I’ve hurt you, please forgive me. I love you. Don’t do this to me. It’s not me you hate. It’s that awful place that has hurt both of us. Please let me go.”
Ms Parker started to relax. It was as if some kind of spell was lifted off her. He was really hurt and scared. She didn’t want that, not really. And she could sense that he loved her.
“Broots, you can get those handcuffs off him now. I guess I have some explaining to do. I’m surprised that you haven’t sensed it, Jarod. Try, I think you know it by now.”
“Are you a – That is impossible. I know you. You weren’t -“
“Yes, I am. I always have been, but Jacob found a way of switching it off for my protection after my mother -“
“Could someone tell me what’s going on? What are you talking about?”
“Should I tell him, or will you, Jarod? Alright, Broots. I’m a pretender too. I just found out a week ago. After I found out that they had stolen our baby, I was so depressed I needed therapy. Not with Sydney, but with a friend of my mother’s. I didn’t want the Centre to find out. Bit by bit, it all came back to me. Then one day, I just knew. Remember that day you cooked for me, Jarod, when I was so tired? It was the day that I knew for sure. I wanted to confide in you, but I just couldn’t.”
“Then why did you to stalk me?”
“You aren’t still mad about that, are you? I’m really sorry that I frightened you. And to answer your question, it was like I said before. I wanted to get back at you for all those practical jokes back then. I guess I overdid it a bit. All my feelings for you got mixed up with what I felt about the Centre. I hated the fact that I was a pretender so I hated you, for being a pretender. Again, I’m really sorry. I love you so much Jarod, I couldn’t bear loosing you.”
“Of course you won’t lose me. I’m yours forever.”
Broots was getting a bit uncomfortable with all that. He just wanted to get away or at least change the subject.
“Hrmf, excuse me. I have wondered about something -“
“Oh, there you are. I’d forgotten all about you. Do you have something you want to ask?”
“Yes. The missing operatives. Did you have something to do with that?”
“Yes, of course. One of my greater moments, wouldn’t you say, Broots? I found out certain things about them and they thought it was better to stay away from the Centre. But Stevens, that was all his own doing. I was the one that leaked to the newspapers too. By the way, tomorrow they will have a great scoop about the Centre. I should think even Brigitte would like to keep a low profile for a while.”
“But how could we risk going back to the Centre after this?”
“We aren’t going back to the Centre. We’re done with that place. From now on, we’ll work against it, instead of for it. What do you think about that, Jarod? You and I should start looking for Jason now. I don’t think it will be long before the whole family is together again. Two pretenders against one. That should even out the odds a bit, shouldn’t it?”
“But, but, I must get back. I mean – Debbie – They will get her.”
“Oh, you can be so tiresome sometimes. Get out of here, now. Jarod and I need to speak. Here, take the keys. Go to the room next door. You’ll find your luggage there.”
Devastated, Broots left the room with the key Ms Parker had given him.
“You must understand him. Debbie is his life. He can’t just leave her. And what about Sydney? They will get to him too.”
“You still can’t bring yourself to trust me, can you?”
Ms Parker smiled mysteriously.
“Of course I didn’t leave them behind. Who do you think are in the next room? I sent Sydney ahead to book the hotel room and to collect Debbie. He still doesn’t know why, just that he had to leave the Centre and protect Debbie. He doesn’t know anything about my – change.”
“I’m so relieved. Maybe I could get dressed now, ma’am?”
“No, you can’t. I like you better this way. But perhaps it would make you feel a little better if I got undressed too?”
With a contented smile she dragged her lover to the bed. He didn’t have to tell her he was hers forever. She already knew that.